Last week was one of the busiest I have experienced in a long time. After almost 14 months of planning, I was able to implement and successfully execute a government camp for high school students (for more details on the camp see www.regent.edu/govcamp). It was a very rewarding experience. 15 high school students attended, some from as far as Maryland and Texas, to study counter-terrorism, national security, leadership, and public service. The camp was filled with multimedia presentations, talks with experts, and field trips to such places as Blackwater Worldwide, Langley AFB, the United States Coast Guard, and several other places. All of the sites we visited were normally off-limits to civilians giving this camp a cloak and dagger feel.
We academics have been educated and trained to address undergraduate, graduate, and well-educated audiences. We employ high level analysis, arguments, and critical reasoning to advance principles and theories that we believe are true and defensible. So imagine trying to apply these techniques with an audience of high school students from public, private, and home school environments. For some of my colleagues, the mere thought of attempting to educate such young students leads to either revulsion or anxiety. After all, aren't such students immature and laden with trivial pursuits? Or, for my more anxious colleagues, just how does one communicate with some of the youngest of millenials who never lived through the tumbling of the Berlin Wall and who were only 7 or 8 years old on 9/11 and who are part of the iPod generation? And, more importantly, how does one reach such an audience, a group that will shape our politics and foreign policy for years to come?
With much courage and perhaps a bit of naivete, I worked with such a group last week. And it was a tremendous experience. These fifteen students were very smart, talented, eager, and well educated. They continually impressed policy and military experts wherever they went. They asked insightful questions, suggested important comments and observations, and were very engaged in all discussions.
Now, the bad news. Over the 14 month period, I asked all presenters to ensure that their talks were lively, engaging, and intellectually stimulating. After all, the audience was composed of high school students who in spite of their mental prowess still needed to be engaged. So imagine my horror when some of the presentations were nothing more than a 1.5 - 2 hour powerpoint presentation with lots of text and professional jargon. It was death by powerpoint! Here we have 15 very bright young people and a number of the presenters could not engage their imagination.
This led me to think of how essential it is that in our task of educating any audience we must engage the mind and the heart- we must engage the whole person. I am more convinced than ever before that the task of educating and passing on some of our most revered principles and traditions cannot solely rely on arguments and logic alone but must also be enhanced and buttressed with pedagogical tools that capture the imagination, feelings, the soul of the students with whom we are working. We cannot divorce the mind from the heart; we cannot compartmentalize human beings as we educate them. We must educate the whole person.
This is why in our task of education we must stand on and advance rock solid principles but we must also learn to be innovative in our methods. We need to learn about and be open to various methods and techniques that do not sacrifice first principles and sound pedagogy but that are relevant, timely, and engaging.
In the weeks ahead, I will delve into some of these issues, techniques, and questions of pedagogy. As we think about educating 21st century students, we must consider how to educate beings that share a common nature but that have been socialized in radically different ways. We must appeal to their nature, capture their mind and heart, and persuade them of the existence of greatness and moral excellence. This is no easy task. But it is one of the most noble.